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Dilemma of the Month: Can I Quit While on Maternity Leave?

Back Q&A Mar 1, 2019 By Suzanne Lucas
While on maternity leave, an opportunity for my dream job has come up, and they want someone immediately. The hiring manager said he was impressed with my resume and would hire me. When I told him my situation, he told me to keep in contact and see what happens. I’ve got two more months of FMLA before I return to my current job. Do I have to go back to work and then give two weeks’ notice, or can I just quit? I know this might not be ethical, but legally can they do anything to stop me?

First, congratulations on the new baby! That’s exciting and I hope you’re sleeping at least a little bit. Second, dream job opportunities are few and far between so I understand wanting to jump on it, but remember just because you think a job will be a dream doesn’t mean it won’t turn into a nightmare. I don’t want to be negative, but sometimes people place all their hopes and dreams on a position or with a company that looks great from the outside, and don’t pay attention to the red flags. So, keep an eye open for that!

Related: Can an employer require employees to return after maternity leave?

Related: Don’t Ignore the ‘Not-Mommy’ Penalty

Now, let’s answer your question. You can quit at any time. Unless you are in a union or otherwise have a contract, you’re an at-will employee — which people usually talk about in terms of firing but it also protects your right to quit when you choose. So, yes, legally you can quit now; you don’t have to wait until you return from FMLA. You also don’t have to give two weeks’ notice. That’s a nice thing to do, but it’s not required by law, only convention.

Clearly changing jobs at this time isn’t as easy as you may think, but it’s completely legal. If you have thought through all of this and apply for and get the job, then go for it. So what do you need to do about your current job?

Tell your current boss sooner rather than later. They are planning on you being out for 12 weeks anyway, so if you tell them early that you’re not coming back, they can replace you more easily. It’s considerate to them to let them know.

Do let them know in the nicest way possible. Speak to your boss on the phone, if possible. Otherwise, send an email. You don’t need to go into the office, although that’s normally the protocol. If you speak with your boss via telephone or in person, send a follow-up email just so everything is clear. Keep it positive. Now isn’t the time to burn bridges.

If you wait until your 12 weeks are up and then come back for one day and give notice, that’s actually harder on your boss. She was looking forward to being fully staffed and now this! It’s legal but it’s more likely to burn bridges than telling her now that you won’t come back.

OK that’s the easy part. But should you really take this job? Because when you’re coming back from maternity leave, there are a few more things to think about.

The first is, you say you have two months of FMLA left. Assuming you didn’t use any FMLA time before you gave birth, that means your baby is about 4 weeks old. Generally speaking, you’re officially disabled for 6-8 weeks after giving birth. If you’re getting disability pay, quitting now could make that stop, and your doctor may not clear you for work before those dates. So, be careful about committing to start a new job before you’re medically ready.

The other big concern is health insurance. Assuming you have your health insurance through your job, if you quit without returning they could require you to pay back their part of your health insurance premium for the time you were on leave! Most companies don’t do this, but legally they can, so understand that may be an unexpected cost.

A new job — even your dream job — will be extremely stressful. Make sure you evaluate if this is the time to change jobs, and let the new employer know what you will and will not be able to do. Honesty in these situations can seem scary, but what you want is the best possible outcome, and being clear about your capabilities will help that.
Just make sure you think through things carefully. You don’t want any


Visitor (not verified)December 23, 2020 - 7:19pm

So, I have a similar question...I recently was offered a position within the organization I work for, however I'm also on maternity leave. The start date does not overlap my leave. I end my leave on 01/12 (back at work 01/13) and the new job starts 01/17.... Granted my organization has all these details at their disposal and my supervisor is aware of my interest in other positions, would it be wise for me to give her my two weeks notice with the tentative date after my return to work or would she have the ability to terminate my employment beforehand? Technically, I'd be back at work for a whopping 3 days before transitioning to the new job the following week.

My thought was, perhaps I could use whatever remaining PTO I still have, however I elected to exhaust what I had prior to beginning leave (to cap out my pay, since I only receive 65% of my pay while on leave)...

So in short: is it legal for them to fire me while on leave if I put in my two week and have 3 final days after I return from leave??

Visitor (not verified)August 31, 2021 - 2:04pm

I am currently on maternity leave. Before going on leave I paid what I would owe my health insurance.
Well I feel that my work has done me dirty and lied (this is not the first time). I really do not want to return and want to quit while on leave. Since I paid my portion of the insurance prior to going on leave would I be required to pay anything further on the insurance? Also, when would they consider my last day would my insurance still be valid to cover when I was in the hospital?

Anderson Chang (not verified)November 10, 2021 - 1:18pm

If I don't have any more sick time and had resigned from my job and needed to use My intermittent leave under FMLA in my remaining. 4 weeks, can my employer withhold my accrued vacation time and not have to pay me.

Visitor (not verified)March 21, 2022 - 12:57pm

I do not qualify for fmla because I have been at my current job under one year. The company provided me with 12 weeks UNpaid maternity leave. Due to complications, I had to start NY leave prior to delivery. My doctor is requiring me to be off work after delivery for 6 weeks, but my leave expires at 5 weeks because I used time prior to delivery. Can they fire me even though I am still not medically cleared? Will I qualify for unemployment? Thank you

Brian (not verified)September 15, 2022 - 2:09pm

Hello, I am going to be going on parental leave as I am the father of the child born. They are willing to pay me for up to 6 weeks off, however I have received a job offer that would Start during my 6 week period. Will i be obligated to return money paid to me if I quit during my leave?